Downhill skiers will find two ski areas in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest: Discovery Basin, just west of Anaconda, and Maverick Mountain, northwest of Dillon. Both are independently owned and operated, so contact the ski area for season and rate information.
For cross-country skiers, the Forest offers both untracked powder for you to pioneer and groomed trails for you to follow. At Chief Joseph Pass, 25 miles west of Wisdom on Highway 43, there's a 27-kilometer system of groomed trails. Volunteers from the Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club groom the Chief Joseph trails every Friday through the season.
At Wade and Cliff lakes, 50 miles south of Ennis, cross-country enthusiasts will find another network of groomed ski trails. The Wade Lake Resort is also open in the winter.
There’s 22-kilometers worth of tracked cross-country ski trail loops near Elkhorn Hot Springs, and a five-kilometer marked loop trail at Birch Creek.
At Moulton, north of Butte, a groomed network of 12 kilometers of cross-country ski trails is available. The trails are groomed and maintained by Mile High Nordic Ski Club.
At Georgetown Lake, you'll find a network of cross-country skiing trails as well as nearly 100 miles of marked and groomed snowmobile trails in the mountains around the lake. Stop in at the Philipsburg Ranger Station for a free map, or go online to http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/bdnf/maps-pubs.
The Pioneer Mountains National Snowmobile Trail runs from Wise River to Elkhorn Hot Springs. Before beginning your journey, check the transmitting of your beacon at the newly installed beacon check neare the gate at the Elkhorn Hot Springs turnoff.
You can also enjoy high-altitude snowmobiling in the Gravelly Range, south of Ennis, running along at 8,000 feet for 50 miles, while the view sweeps on forever.
Right off of Interstate 15, at either the Elk Park, Bernice or Basin exits, snowmobilers can find 117 miles of marked and groomed trails in the upper Boulder River, Lowlands and Cottonwood Creek areas of Jefferson County. This same set of trails can also be reached from the Deer Lodge exit on I-90. Maps of this trail system are available at Forest Service offices in Butte, Whitehall, Deer Lodge, and Philipsburg.
The Forest Service, in conjunction with Jefferson County, closes several roads to full-size vehicles including Lowland Road #442, Boulder River Road #82, Hail Columbia #9485 and American Gulch #674 through April 1. Visitors are reminded that closures are still in effect across the Forest even though snow levels are low this year.
Pick up a map for the part of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest that interests you, and to find out which areas and routes are open to snowmobiles. Three maps cover the entire 3.3-million-acre National Forest and cost $10 each available at local Forest Service offices and merchants, or you can order maps online at http://www.nationalforeststore.com. Maps can also be downloaded to your mobile device through the Avenza PDF Maps App, which is available as a free download from iTunes and the Android Play Store. Forest Service visitor maps cost $4.99 each.
As you make your plans for this winter, remember the Forest Service offers places to stay when you want to get away. You can rent backcountry cabins in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, some of which can be reached only by ski or snowmobile. For a complete list of these cabins, visit the forest’s website, http://www.fs.usda/bdnf/recreation. All cabins have basic amenities: beds, tables, chairs, and wood stoves. You must usually bring your own drinking water, bedding, towels, and food. Plan ahead, as many cabins get booked quickly for winter weekends. Rental rates are generally between $20 and $40 per night. To make reservations and to find out more information, call 1-877-444-6777 or go to http://www.recreation.gov/.
Winters in SW Montana can be both fun and dangerous. Before heading out to enjoy your favorite recreation activity, check both the local weather forecast and the current avalanche conditions. Daily updates on avalanche conditions can be found at the Gallatin National Forest (Bozeman) avalanche Center website at http://www.mtavalanche.com, or the West Central Montana (Missoula) avalanche Center website at http://www.missoulaavalanche.org.